Well-known environmentalist and author Tzeporah Berman slammed the BC government's "minimum requirements" for the Enbridge Northern Gateway oil pipeline project today.
The requirements were announced today at a press conference by Minister of Environment Terry Lake. They included: First Nations accommodation, benefit-sharing, improved marine and land spill response.
Lake said the government's conditions were not a "tacit approval" of the project, but "minimum conditions" that will guide the BC government's consideration of the proposal. He said that this was an opportunity for BC and Canada to develop world-class standards for safe oil pipelines.
"Neither the government, nor the industry, has any idea how to actually deal with heavy oil spills. The fact is, we know that bitumen sinks, and they don't yet know how to deal with that in a marine environment.
"So their claims that they can create world class standards, that they can ensure that the British Columbia environment and coast is protected, are simply false," Berman said, after talking with Minister Lake following the government's announcement at Canada Place.
"They are giving us no assurance that they will put the concerns and safety of British Columbians above those of Big Oil."
"This smells a lot like they're trying to pave the way to bring dangerous pipelines and tanker traffic that will benefit big oil acceptable in British Columbia. The fact is, these pipelines pose unacceptable risks to our environment and our economy," Berman said.
Anticipation about the BC government taking a firm stance on the proposal began building over the weekend after Premier Christy Clark stated publicly that the project posed a "very large risk" with a "very small benefit" for BC.
Minister of Aboriginal Relations Mary Polak and Lake spoke to a crowded room of reporters from local and international news outlets. Polak said while First Nations while don't have veto over the project -- she repeated this four times during the conference -- they do need to be adequately consulted.
"To date, BC First Nations do not appear to have been appropriately and meaningfully engaged," she said.
She said the government is not aware of any First Nations community that currently supports the project. 97 per cent of those who spoke at the hearing so far were opposed.
"I think that it's offensive that the government is simply not listening or responding to the concerns expressed by First Nations," Berman said about the government's statements.
The government developed a set of tools for First Nations to work with industry on economic development, Polak said, but did not say what role these tools will play in the government's evaluation of Enbridge's consulation with aboriginal groups.
Eric Swanson of the Dogwood Initiative, dismissed the government's strategies as divisive and politically damaging.
"If this government does set out those conditions, and after more wait-and-see and more review, decide that they're going to approve the thing against the wishes of the most affected people, they're going to hurt in the next election," Swanson said.
A new report released by the BC government about heavy oil shows that BC would shoulder 100 per cent of marine environmental risk, and over half land risk. Source: BC Government.
"You can never guarantee that there won't be a spill, and that gets to the fundamental question: do we need to accept any level of risk whatsoever?" Swanson said.
The Living Oceans Society immediately condemned the BC government's announcement, saying, "World-leading marine oil spill response and recovery systems will do nothing for us in the event of a spill of tar sands bitumen."
Karen Wristen, Living Oceans’ executive director went on to say that “First, Enbridge needs to establish to the satisfaction of British Columbians that there exists any technology that could clean up such a spill."
Five new minimum requirements
Below are details of the government's new requirements for heavy oil pipelines in BC, as printed in its latest report, Requirements for British Columbia to Consider Support for Heavy Oil Pipelines:
- Successful completion of the environmental review process. In the case of Enbridge, that would mean a recommendation by the National Energy Board Joint Review Panel that the project proceed;
- World-leading marine oil spill response, prevention and recovery systems for B.C.'s coastline and ocean to manage and mitigate the risks and costs of heavy oil pipelines and shipments;
- World-leading practices for land oil spill prevention, response and recovery systems to manage and mitigate the risks and costs of heavy oil pipelines;
- Legal requirements regarding Aboriginal and treaty rights are addressed, and First Nations are provided with the opportunities, information and resources necessary to participate in and benefit from a heavy-oil project; and;
- British Columbia receives a fair share of the fiscal and economic benefits of a proposed heavy oil project that reflects the level, degree and nature of the risk borne by the province, the environment and taxpayers.
A joint plan of action with the federal government
The government also laid out its requirements regarding environmental assessment (EA) processes. "EA processes are led by statutory decision-makers, require a considerable level of project detail, frequently require public hearings and are designed to bring transparency and engagement to project review," said a government press release about the report.
BC released detailsa bout a "joint plan of action" with the federal government that would include the following elements:
- Limits to liability that ensure sufficient financial resources to properly address any spills;
- increased federal response capacity;
- Full adoption of the Unified Command model;
- Strengthened federal requirements on industry for the provision and placement of marine response equipment and infrastructure;
- Industry-funded terrestrial (land-based) spill co-operative with sufficient human and technical capacity to manage spill risk from pipelines and other land-based sources;
- Increased capacity within the provincial emergency response program to ensure adequate oversight of industry; and
- A Natural Resources Damage Assessment process to provide certainty that a responsible party will address all costs associated with a spill.